Hints of Gladness

That my daily writing sometimes elicits a positive comment or an appreciative mention makes me feel great. That once in a while, someone “likes” or shares my words is a kind reminder that a hand is holding the other tin can at the end of this string. I love knowing that you are there. I appreciate you for your kind attention.

And I do not do it for you. I do it for me.

My writing lets me know what I’m thinking and, more personally, what I need. I do not write to share expertise or “know how” though sometimes I find myself with one foot caught in that trap. I write because I trust that what is longing to be expressed are my own questions – a prelude to my own wisdom – seeking to come to my aid.

When I wrote yesterday about being a source instead of a resource, I was reminding myself to reassert my self-authorship, that only I get to decide how much of my creativity, energy and commitment to share. No one can do that for me. No one is waiting for me to shoot up an eager hand. No one is waiting to pick me.

In short order I came across yet another of Mary Oliver’s beautiful messages of reassurance and possibility. Here, she takes us into the forest to listen and then to notice how the trees encourage us to follow their example, to ease ourselves into being ourselves, our shining, light-filled selves.

I needed that today. Maybe you do, too.


When I Am Among the Trees
by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,
especially the willows and the honey locust,
equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,
they give off such hints of gladness.
I would almost say that they save me, and daily.
I am so distant from the hope of myself,
in which I have goodness, and discernment,
and never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Around me the trees stir in their leaves
and call out, “Stay awhile.”
The light flows from their branches.
And they call again, “It’s simple,” they say,
“and you too have come
into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled
with light, and to shine.”

A Healthy Burn

For a healthy forest to remain healthy – for it to survive – it has to burn.

That’s not conjecture, it’s science.

A forest has to burn frequently enough to clear out the understory – the pine needles, dry grasses, and smaller trees – that when left unmanaged can turn a necessary cycle of periodic fire into an inferno from which few forests can ever fully recover.

Too much fuel equals massive devastation. When that fuel is reduced the mature trees – the ones we think of as “forest” – remain unharmed and even strengthen their resistance to fire.

Since people don’t care much for fire, these “healthy burns” rarely get a chance to run their natural course. We stamp them out as quickly as possible and unwittingly create conditions for much worse outcomes down the line.

The natural world, in its taciturn way, is always teaching us how to work with change in our own lives and in our organizations, too.

Sometimes the understory has to burn – old hurts let go of, good people moving on, dated practices falling away – so that we have the space, once again, to imagine just how high we would like to grow.


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Open, Not Apart

IMG_5965Our hearts do not break apart, they break open.

It is through this opening that what we need tiptoes in, staying beyond our vision until we are ready to see.

This is difficult to explain. It must be lived…felt…to be understood.

Consider the way the fallen Redwood opens space in the canopy of the forest for saplings to receive sunlight. Consider how its decaying trunk provides nourishment for the forest floor and refuge for small creatures.

As we reel from the destruction of the fall we can also trust that what it has set in motion will be more generative than anything that might be gained from its perpetual and upright symmetry.

A healthy forest integrates both the broken and the whole, becoming more resilient as a result.

Our heart’s ecology is the same. When it breaks it does not pull us apart but equips us to open wider still.


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Humboldt Redwood State Park – November 19, 2018

11 Reasons Why You Should Take a Walk in the Woods

I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees.
{Henry David Thoreau}


I live in Southern California where a walk in the woods is a luxury enjoyed only after a long drive or, like I did recently, an airplane ride. My dream is to someday live where I can step out of the house and onto a forested trail but, for now, inspired by my recent wanderings, I offer you these enticements, hopeful that they will encourage your own exploration.

  1. Technology has had its way with you. You need a break.
  2. The natural world has stood the test of time; there’s a lot to learn from it.
  3. Simpler is better. You already overthink too much stuff.
  4. Connection. The spacious intimacy of the woods is the perfect environment for a deeper conversation.
  5. You could use a fresh perspective. (Any walking will aid this, being in the woods is a bonus!)
  6. You love to be outside, remember?
  7. Your body is built to move. Even slowly, it’s hungry for it.
  8. You’ll get dirty, at least a little bit, and that dirt will reinvigorate the kid in you.
  9. Trees are quiet. They don’t talk back.
  10. Trees are patient. You won’t be rushed.
  11. You’ll be reminded that you are a part of something much larger than yourself.

I can’t help but wonder how our lives, relationships and communities would benefit if we chose more often to enjoy the restorative, essential and affirming benefits of a nice long walk in the woods.

Happy trails!


SWSP Ridge Trail

South Whidbey State Park, Ridge Loop Trail

 

 

 

 

 

Your Busy Heart

Take your busy heart to the art museum and the 
chamber of commerce 
but take it also to the forest. 
The song you heard singing in the leaf when you 
were a child 
is singing still. 
I am of years lived, so far, seventy-four, 
and the leaf is singing still.
~ from What Can I Say, by Mary Oliver ~


It might be that the best thing to do right now is to push away from the desk, walk down the hall, exit the building and take a walk.
It might be that what you discover outside could not possibly be confused with a forest. It might just be parking lots and buildings and people.
It might be that the fresh air is as close to the forest as you need to get, to refresh yourself, clear your mind, consider your questions in a new way.
We should all get to the forest as often as possible, I couldn’t agree with that any more strongly.
And, even though that may not be easy or convenient to do, we can take steps in that direction. Those steps include pushing away from the desk, walking down the hall, exiting the building and breathing in a new perspective.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

My Developmental Pathway

“You can’t go back and change the beginning,
but you can start where you are and change the ending.”
— C S Lewis


You know the feeling of being lost. You know what it’s like to start out with a sense of direction, a heading that makes sense to you. And then, after a wrong turn or missed signpost, that sense of direction evaporates into confusion as you can’t get your bearings. And you stumble around a little bit hoping it will come back to you. “This all looks familiar,” you might say, “but I just don’t know how to get going in the right direction.”

I got lost in the forest that way, not once but three days in a row. Each morning I set out with clarity and purpose and within 15 minutes I was not where I intended to be. I made wrong turns. I missed the signposts. It was dark and I was stubborn, a troubling combination.

For three consecutive days I failed to get the beginning right. For three consecutive days I was able to change the ending and get myself back where I needed to be.

I didn’t want it to play out that way but it was how I needed it to play out to help me understand my developmental pathway. That trail in the woods was always leading me back, not to what I wanted but to what I needed. And what I needed was the reminder that I am least in control when I am the most controlling; that I am least capable when I am blindly confident; that I am least connected when I focus on competence, arrival and completion.

Me against a dark and unknown forest trail wasn’t close to a fair fight. And each time it knocked me down I got back up to test it again. And I got knocked down again. Until, until, until I was ready to accept what it had to teach me; that the construct of “me against a dark and unknown forest trail” was only the latest manifestation of my familiar developmental path.

Me against. Me against. Me against. An endless, un-winnable fight.

Me with the unknown trail. Me with the scary conversations. Me with the deepening relationship. Me with the new opportunity to stretch, learn and grow. Me with the unknown future.

Connection is the pathway I continue to walk.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world. Connect with him on Twitter at @berrydavid.

So Many Trees

There are so many kinds of trees. I recognized this week how few of them I can name.

I can spot a redwood, or is that a sequoia?

Of course I know a maple leaf (thank you, Canada). But a Japanese maple?

And that Bay laurel? The leaf looks familiar, just not the whole tree.

And on it goes.

It doesn’t matter if I know the difference between the trees around me. Nothing is at stake.

But if I lose sight of their individuality – if I can’t see the tree for the forest – then I am choosing willful blindness over appreciation and awareness.

And trees, without judgment, defensiveness or retaliation, are a safe place to practice how I might think about other people.


DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

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There’s a line in a David Whyte poem I come back to again and again: “anything or anyone that doesn’t bring you alive is too small for you.”

It’s worth considering what you’re hanging onto that no longer serves you. That habit, that mindset, that behavior, that relationship…it’s familiar and understood. It’s comfortable.

If you let it go, what will you be left with? What will take its place? The great adventure is to let it go and find out. The great terror is to let it go and find out.

I’m reminded of the understory of a forest. If it doesn’t burn periodically nothing new has the space and light to grow.

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.

 

Lost With a Map

Whidbey MapSeth Godin published a brief, excellent piece this morning called The Thing About Maps:

“Sometimes, when we’re lost, we refuse a map, even when offered. 

Because the map reminds us that we made a mistake. That we were wrong.

But without a map, we’re not just wrong, but we’re also still lost.

A map doesn’t automatically get you home, but it will probably make you less lost. 

(When dealing with the unknown, it’s difficult to admit that there might not be a map. In those cases, a compass is essential, a way to remind yourself of your true north…)”

His writing took me back to a series of October mornings in 2014 which I wrote about in the early pages of my bookA More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of ChangeI hope you enjoy this excerpt and that it inspires a bigger conversation about how you navigate the unknown.

~~~

For just a moment, I considered staying in bed. It was 6:15 a.m. and my commitment to getting out for an early hike was being tested by the darkness of the hour. A peek out the window had me convinced it was the dead of night and the thrumming rain only strengthened my impulse to hunker down for a little more sleep.

I was in a cabin on the grounds of the Whidbey Institute in Washington State, a property crisscrossed by forest paths I had first seen in the light of day the previous afternoon. During that well-lit walk in the woods, I realized with satisfaction that the trails would provide an ideal way for me to get some exercise each morning of the leadership conference that I had traveled here to attend.

But once I’m up, I’m up. And I can be a stubborn guy when it comes to changing my plans. Dismissing the darkness, the rain, and my embarrassingly limited knowledge about the property, I got ready to go.

A trail map in one pocket and a small flashlight in hand, I headed down the lane with my usual confidence and a focus on completion. I might as well have taken along a candle and a fortune cookie, so closed-off was I to any form of help. With huge drops of water tumbling from the pine trees above and mud squishing under my heels, I was enthralled by the moment and blind to my arrogance. I had concluded in reviewing the trail map that by navigating the intersecting trails in just the right way I could construct a three-mile loop that would maximize the uphill climbs. It was this loop I was seeking as I crashed into the darkness, assuming that what made sense on paper would materialize before my eyes. It did not, and I got lost. Again and again I was forced to stop, frustrated and breathless, so that I could reorient to the path. I did not complete the route I set out to do. I was lucky to get back in time for breakfast.

On the second morning, I was smarter but no wiser. I was not ready to do the essential thing required of walking in this unknown forest in the darkness: to slow down and notice. I would not let go of my head’s agenda, still believing that I could just figure it out along the way. I backtracked multiple times, misread the map, and found myself at the end of a trail in an open field next to a school. It was one of many recalculations that only took me farther off course.

On the third day, in what I believed was my growing humility, I committed to a different approach. I took the flashlight along but left the trail map in my room. I reasoned that this would leave me no choice but to rely on presence. I would have to notice what was around and available to me at a given moment. I would have to slow down to see the trail markers and to recognize aspects of the landscape I had seen before and could use for guidance.

I got lost again.

This time, I was incredulous. Although I had good intentions, my actual choices did not back them up. I wanted to slow down, but I just wouldn’t do it. I wouldn’t let go of my head’s need for completion and achievement. As I contemplated the perilously steep incline of my learning curve, I shuddered to think how a fourth encounter would have gone. My saving grace was the reality of scheduling and a return flight home.

I like to think I would have finally “discovered” the forest in the way that it was so patiently waiting for me to do. I like to think I would have taken care with my time and energy to assess and clarify the best path. Perhaps in a few days (weeks?) something would have shifted. Some new awareness born of the repetition of my obstinacy might have emerged, and little by little I might have started to learn. Perhaps.

I recognize that this kind of insistence – a stubborn refusal to accept the reality of my circumstances – says an awful lot about my particular makeup. I also know that I am not alone in this. What I see, as those who are most afflicted are best equipped to do, is a raft of leaders continuing to do things that no longer make sense. We are operating under radically different conditions than we are used to and we are ignoring the resources at our disposal. We are acting more like heroes on whose shoulders all responsibility must fall rather than like learners who are vigilant in their curiosity.

Doing the same thing, only faster, is an insufficient response to complexity and change. We have to make a different choice in the face of the unknown. We may, finally, just have to stop and get our bearings, about as radical a thing we can do in a world that is constantly on “go.” Coming to a standstill has a way of getting our attention in a new way. What might happen if we stopped long enough and frequently enough to get a deeper understanding of ourselves?

What might happen if we made just enough space for a new conversation about why we are so insistent on continuing down paths that no longer serve us?

DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.